Talented musician Rob Scallon traveled to Corning, New York to meet with Dennis James to learn more about his bespoke motorized Armonica, a spinning glass bowl instrument that was first invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. James explained that his instruments are made out of glass bowls of different sizes that come from a variety of sources.
A Christmas shot glass, white wine, red wine, cereal, bowl, cake cover. This is a shaving mug. This is a little purse atomizer that I keep full of alcohol. A single drop of perspiration hits a bowl, I have to get that off of there because it spreads, so that’s always there. This is the top half of a butter dish.
James described the concept of the instrument in wonderful detail.
The sound is coming out of the cracks. Yeah, the bulk of the sound is here the vibrations are either this side or they’re being thrust out of the little gaps. …the game is to learn how to reliably make that note to play. Now to make it loud think about what a violin player does when they’re both because we’re bowing the glass. This is the surface of the strings of the bow, the water is the rosin, the stick-slip principle of physics where it grabs.
James then performed a beautiful “Adagio in C for Glass Armonica” by Mozart before turning it over to Scallon. Scallon was quite an adept student, learning the instrument very quickly while appreciating the difficulty of playing it. He also summed up how to play in just a few words.
Get those fingers pruney and definitely don’t press too hard.